Another Foreign Policy Unforced Error: Jerusalem

-->
Trump Maladministration

Following Trump’s slurred announcement that the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem, the State Department updated its Worldwide Caution alert to be sure Americans traveling abroad know there are Terrorists Out There. Of course.

Trump had absolutely no idea why the move to Jerusalem might be problematic.

President Trump did not completely grasp the ramifications of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, several advisers told The Washington Post.

Trump wanted to seem “pro-Israel” and focused on “making a deal,” two advisers told the Post.

According to the newspaper, some administration officials voicing their support for the decision included Vice President Pence and adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law.

Others, though, advocated against the move, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Trump on Wednesday recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy there.

WaPo:

The decision to shake off warnings from senior officials such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and align himself instead with prominent proponents of the move, including Vice President Pence and major donor Sheldon Adelson, underscored the president’s determination to break with past policy and keep a key campaign pledge — despite the potential risks to U.S. interests in the region and the goal of Middle East peace.  …

… Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, had supported the move from early in Trump’s candidacy, and Pence, who is to visit Israel this month, told Trump that his base would love the decision, something the president liked to hear.

An important outside voice advising Trump to make the leap was [Sheldon] Adelson’s, according to several people familiar with the two men’s conversations. At a White House dinner earlier this year, Adelson made the issue a main topic, one person said. In the months that followed, Adelson periodically asked others close to Trump what was causing the delay and expressed frustration, these people said. …

… “It’s insane. We’re all resistant,” said one Trump confidant who recently spoke to the president about it. “He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.”

While Trump appeared to have made up his mind, he continued to solicit input, two White House officials said, even asking random acquaintances about the Middle East in recent months. Several advisers said he did not seem to have a full understanding of the issue and instead appeared to be focused on “seeming pro-Israel,” in the words of one, and “making a deal,” in the words of another.

The WaPo article goes on to say that the announcement had nothing to do with any peace process, but rather was mostly about Trump wanting to keep a campaign promise. Of course, it was a stupid promise because moving our embassy to Jerusalem helps neither Israel nor the United States.

Presidents need to be able to play multi-dimensional chess. Trump can’t manage one-dimensional tic-tac-toe without screwing it up.

Juan Cole:

Some sections of the crazy quilt that makes up the Trump administration want to push Iran back out of the Arab world and weaken it, in support of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Those actors have just been handed a big setback by Trump’s slurred and crazed announcement that he will move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize it as the capital. …

… It isn’t that everyone doesn’t already know that Washington is on board with screwing over the Palestinians and humiliating the Arabs. But Trump just flaunted it in everyone’s face.

But let us consider the Saudi cold war with Iran. Given the open Saudi signals of cooperation with Israel against Tehran and given the Al Saud’s embrace of Trump, Riyadh is implicated in the Jerusalem decision whether they like it or not. In the propaganda wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran just got a big boost.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani called up Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that Jerusalem is the permanent capital of Palestine. Turkey is majority Sunni, while Iran is a Shiite republic. Any attempt to block Iran’s influence would have to aim at instigating bad relations between these two, among the most populous and wealthy countries in the Middle East.

Trump managed to bring Turkey and Iran together by what they called his “wrong” and “illegal” action. In fact, Rouhani called for all 56 Muslim-majority countries to make a stand against the US. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Jerusalem will always be Arab and Islamic. The country’s Leader, Ali Khamenei, also weighed in, pledging to organize the Muslim world for a response. So now the Iranians (not Arabs) are the champions of Arab nationalism, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt are supine. So Trump is helping make Iran a leader of the Muslim world. Good job.

Charles Pierce:

People who believe that the president* is a dealmaking genius—or, more precisely, the people who are paid to tell him they believe it—likely will see this move as a clever ploy to shock both sides into serious negotiations. Sensible people, however, will see this move as a man who fingerpaints with botulism. World leaders, of course, are basically aghast. Even Jared Kushner’s new pals, the Saudis, consider this a reckless idea. From Haaretz:

“Any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,” Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said in a statement. “The kingdom’s policy – has been – and remains in support of the Palestinian people, and this has been communicated to the U.S. administration.”

Jared Kushner is, of course, dumber than a bag of hammers, and the fact that this walking tribute to privileged cluelessness is in charge of our Middle East policy ought to scare the stuffing out of all of us. Politico reports that Kushner — who pushed for the move of the embassy — has no clue why this would jeopardize his good relations with the Saudis or threaten any negotiations regarding the Palestinians.

With the exception of Benjamin Netanyahu, world leaders have expressed strong condemnation of Trump’s move. And, truly, it was an unforced error. I’m not aware of any pressure being put on Trump to mess with the status quo. He did it because he wanted to.

Share Button
8 Comments

Unilateral Disarmament? McCarthyism?

-->
Trump Maladministration

I have major misgivings about the calls for Al Franken to resign from the Senate, but if he does, I will demand that the Democrats go on an aggressive and merciless offense against Republicans on the sexual harassment/assault issue. The Dems will be able to offer a contrast between themselves and the Republicans: We take this issue seriously while they protect rapists and pedophiles!

Otherwise we will have lost a good senator for nothing.

Because, you know, if Democrats resign for this — and I agree John Conyers needed to go — and Republicans don’t, the GOP will hold that up as proof that Democrats are perverts. Even now Mitch McConnell is calling on Franken to resign while his party supports Roy Moore and makes excuses for Donald Trump. And they’ll get away with that if the Democrats don’t step up.

The public mind is a lazy mind. A long time ago I read that people who talk a lot about morality are perceived as being moral even when they aren’t. And now Republicans seem to be coasting on the argument that they aren’t guilty of anything because they haven’t admitted to being guilty.  And if the Democrats don’t shout over them, they’ll get away with that.

Stuff to read, pro and con:

Al Franken, the latest casualty of the ‘Weinstein’ effect, now a victim of sexual McCarthyism

I Believe Franken’s Accusers Because He Groped Me, Too

Update: See Paul Waldman, The depressing lesson of political sex scandals

When it comes to sex scandals, the politicians who are the most guilty and the least repentant are the ones who survive.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is expected to announce his resignation on Thursday, after two moreallegations of inappropriate sexual behavior were published on Wednesday and most of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate called for him to step down. If that is indeed what happens, it will be a turn of events that is at once rare — senators very seldom voluntarily give up their seats for any reason, let alone for allegations that haven’t been proven in court — and unsurprising, if you understand how scandals like this usually proceed.

That’s because Franken was contrite and apologetic when the allegations first emerged. While he said in general terms that he didn’t remember events in the same way his accusers did, he didn’t attack them or call them liars, and he pledged to do better. When a politician reacts that way, there’s a good chance he’s on his way out.

And who survives this kind of scandal? The ones that are the least repentant — and often, the most guilty.

Also, I understand that Franken did just resign.

Share Button
10 Comments

Mueller Subpoenas Deutsche Bank

-->
Trump Maladministration

Shit’s getting real, fast. Mueller flipped Flynn and is now digging into Trump’s personal finances.

Russ Choma and Andy Kroll at Mother Jones:

Now it’s getting personal. On Tuesday, a German newspaper reported that Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia scandal, has issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank, which Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars, making this financial behemoth Trump’s largest creditor. This summer, Trump said that he considered his family’s personal finances a “red line” that Mueller should not cross. But by targeting Deutsche Bank with a subpoena for more information about Trump’s accounts, Mueller may well be crossing that line. More important perhaps, he is digging into a massive Trump conflict of interest and one of the biggest questions regarding Trump’s business empire: why would this German bank lend him so much money when US banks wouldn’t?

I wouldn’t say Mueller “may well” be crossing that line; I’d say he definitely is. Deutsche Bank is not a “U.S.” bank, strictly speaking, but it does a lot of business in the U.S. and has a big headquarters in New York City. You know, where Trump used to live.

Deutsche Bank is important to Trump because U.S. banks won’t work with him. He’s a bad risk. If Deutsche Bank hadn’t extended a line of credit to him, he’d be washed up today. And today it’s said that Trump owes Deutsche Bank hundreds of millions of dollars. But the question is, why would Deutsche Bank lend him money? What’s in it for them?

Josh Marshall:

Why Deutsche Bank still works with Trump (they financed most of the DC Trump hotel project, for instance) is a basic question running through the Russia story. I’ve had a couple theories. One is simply this: that years ago Trump realized that he couldn’t be shut out by every major bank. He needed at least one major lender who would still do business with him and thus made sure not to cheat or gouge them as actively as he did the others. (This wasn’t terribly credible since he got in a legal tangle with DB a few years ago demanding that he be released from his debt to the bank and be reimbursed because of the banks role in the 2008 financial crisis. Yes, he sued saying he should be released from repaying a loan.) The other possibility is that there was some extra-economic factor that kept them lending.

Along those lines many have pointed out that lots of Russian money goes through Deutsche Bank and indeed the bank has been repeatedly fined for Russian money laundering. The Deutsche Bank subpoena is certainly about probing the President’s financial ties to Russia, which are as we know extensive.

A hypothesis that explains all of the known facts: Trump is personally in debt to Russians up to his comb-over. Putin could ruin him politically and financially just by giving the word, which means Trump as POTUS must tread carefully to not overly piss off Putin. And of course his power over Trump gave Putin incentive to try to manipulate the election in Trump’s favor.

We may learn eventually that something else is going on, but so far that’s where it all seems to be pointing. Even if my hypothesis is proved wrong, it’s a safe bet that Trump’s finances, including his taxes, won’t stand up to legal scrutiny.

Also, in other news: Now Southern California is on fire.

Share Button
13 Comments

How Can We Impeach Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

-->
Trump Maladministration

A quick rundown …

Obstruction of Justice.  There’s a hell of an obstruction of justice case against Trump just based on what he’s done publicly. The obstruction of justice case was a slam dunk months ago, in fact. And he’s too stupid to stop digging that hole. So now it’s like a slam dunk and a whole bunch of free throws. One of his lawyers has put out the bizarre argument that presidents cannot obstruct justice. But Trump’s attorney general, Jeff “Stars and Bars” Sessions, is on record as having a different opinion. So good luck getting out of that one, Donny.

The Emoluments Clause. The Constitution says that U.S. officials may not may not accept money, gifts or titles of nobility from foreign governments, and that no monetary benefit (other than salary) should be derived by holding office.

But what happens when a president has businesses on the side with foreign governments? Trump had promised his business would not make new deals with foreign governments while he is in office, but he keeps breaking that promise. And we’re in new territory here.

Anita Kumar reported for McClatchy today that

A construction company owned in part by the governments of Saudi Arabia and South Korea plans to build a Trump-branded luxury resort development in Indonesia despite a vow from Donald Trump that his family business would not make any deals with foreign government entities while he serves as president. …

… McClatchy reported in September that a major construction company owned by the Chinese government was awarded a $32-million contract to build a six-lane road as part of the residential piece of the Trump World Golf Club Dubai project.

And this is a problem because …

Walter Shaub, who served as the director of the Office of Government Ethics until July, said it was a “foregone conclusion” that Trump would have numerous conflicts of interests after he made the decision to retain his business. “Just about every decision he makes puts him under cloud of suspicion,” Shaub said. “It became inevitable because he didn’t sell. It’s precisely why he should have divested.”

Now every time his company does business in a foreign country or with a foreign entity, Trump faces a fresh set of questions: Is a foreign government gaining access to him because of his business? Is the business deal a factor in U.S. foreign policy? Is a foreign government building goodwill with him because of his company? …

…Ethics experts, including those involved in three separate lawsuits accusing Trump of violating the so-called emoluments clause of the Constitution, say the latest agreements with Posco could violate the law depending on what kind of influence the foreign governments have on the company and whether the Trump Organization is receiving a benefit.

The Logan Act. No one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act, but it’s been on the books since 1799.

The Logan Act makes it a crime for a United States citizen, “without authority” from the federal government, to communicate with foreign officials in order to “influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government” in a dispute with the United States or “to defeat the measures of the United States.” A conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to three years. …

… The statute applies squarely to Mr. Flynn. According to court filings, a “very senior member” of the Trump transition team told Mr. Flynn on or about Dec. 22, 2016, to contact officials from Russia and other foreign governments regarding a resolution pending before the United Nations Security Council that condemned Israeli settlement activity. Mr. Flynn then asked the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, to delay a vote on the resolution or use Russia’s veto to prevent it from passing.

There appears to be a broad consensus now that the “very senior member” was Jared “Back Channel” Kushner, who has his own problems with Russians. But were other members of the transition team in the dark about what Kushner and Flynn were up to? That’s extremely doubtful.

Collusion. And, finally, we get to the old “did Russia help Trump win the election” question. Brian Beutler writes,

There is more than enough evidence to say definitively that the Trump administration colluded with Russia, and there is every reason to believe the plot encompassed criminal activity, even if that activity remains invisible for now. …

…We know that Russian spies approached the Trump campaign offering assistance in the election multiple times. At least twice, Russians dangled the lure of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including stolen emails, and both times, Trump campaign officials (George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump, Jr.) expressed interest. Trump, Jr. was particularly enthusiastic about the idea of cooperating with the Russians, and shortly after he welcomed Russian spies to Trump tower for a meeting about “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, he coordinated messaging with Wikileaks, which operated last summer and fall as a cutout for Russian hackers.

After repeatedly communicating to Russia (in public and in private) that they welcomed interference in the election, Trump and his aides cast public doubt on whether the saboteurs were Russians at all. When Trump went on to win the election after benefiting from this interference, members of his inner circle, through Michael Flynn, secretly connived with Russia to subvert the countermeasures the American government had undertaken as penalties for Russia’s interference. …

… Meanwhile, Trump’s pretense that Flynn did no wrong but to lie to Vice President Mike Pence is falling apart, as it becomes increasingly clear that Flynn was honest with the entire team about his communication with Russian agents, and they all agreed to tell lies about it to the public. Trump admitted on Saturday that he knew Flynn had repeated those lies to the FBI at the time he ousted Flynn, and at the time he beseeched FBI Director James Comey to let Flynn off the hook. The president is for this and a myriad other reasons the subject of an obstruction investigation.

At this point, to say collusion allegations remain unproven is materially misleading. Collusion has been conclusively proven; we are in the process of learning how extensive it was, and whether, in the course of it, American conspirators committed federal crimes.

I have argued several times that we don’t know if whatever the Russians did had any measurable effect on the election, but just attempting to use the help of a foreign government to win a presidential election is, um, bad.

Share Button
7 Comments

Is the Republican Party Committing Suicide?

-->
Trump Maladministration

It’s been an interesting few hours.

In a truly wild and dizzying Friday night and Saturday morning in Washington, Senate Republicans committed collective political suicide by passing a deeply detested tax bill they were still writing seemingly moments before they jammed it through on a party-line vote with no hearings and no meaningful input from a public that hasn’t even seen the text of the legislation.

The thing has been revised so many times it may take a few days to sort out what’s in it. Since there are still significant differences between the Senate and House bills there’s still a slim chance it will die in reconciliation, but it seems the entire GOP is in a what the hell let’s set our hair on fire and see what happens mood. I think it’s going to get done, unfortunately.

Whatever adjustments Republicans made to pass the bill, the basics of this atrocity are pretty straightforward: It will permanently slash the corporate tax rate, even though American companies are swimming in record rivulets of cash profits. That rate may go up over time to satisfy the deficit hawks, but it will ultimately end up at a much lower endpoint than it’s at today. The bill will eliminate the inheritance tax, allowing denizens of Richistan to reproduce the Trump family dynamic of billionaire thieves passing their ill-gotten largesse in gigantic lump sums to their own shiftless children. To pay for this pointless handout to people with third homes in Jackson Hole, Republicans also eliminated or reduced a series of popular tax deductions and incentives almost exclusively for people that voted against them. The tax code has been weaponized.

And of course, Senate Republicans included a gratuitous repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate, something that will save the government billions by ultimately pushing about 13 million people out of the insurance market altogether and will spike premiums for everyone else in the exchange markets. The whole sordid thing will add roughly $1 trillion or more to the deficit over the next decade, according to the Fake News Congressional Budget Office and the Failing Non-Partisan Joint Committee on Taxation. I could bore you with a thousand quotes from GOP leaders during the Obama administration about how the national debt is the dingo that will eat your baby for breakfast, the demon that will possess your grandchildren and rob them of their prosperity, but do I really have to? All you need to know is that if these Republicans saw a balanced budget drowning in an icy river, they would whistle while they walked right by it. They literally never cared.

The only thing that might save the Republican Party is the inability of Democrats to make a big enough noise about this monster.

But 2018 is likely to be an interesting election year. If the tax bill is signed into law, sooner or later the American people will notice how it is impacting their lives. People will lose health care and see premiums go up.

And in 2019, as folks are preparing their 2018 taxes, a lot of them are going to notice that their taxes actually went up.

Meanwhile, Trump is going to have to fight to keep is job. At Vanity Fair, T.A. Frank has an interesting theory on what might happen next:

Now we get to the main point, which is that passage of this bill marks the end of Trump’s presidency. Trump (along with his supporters) seems to feel that triumphing on taxes will give him the momentum to move onto other great things. It won’t. It will offer Republicans the chance to abandon him. More than anything, this piece of legislation is what Republicans needed from the president. Trump has been a building fire that Republicans wouldn’t put out because they needed it to light their cigars. But now the G.O.P. has got what it wanted. It can puff and move along.

Trump might think what comes next is his wall or maybe even—who knows how much he dreams?—an infrastructure bill. These won’t happen. His leverage with his party will be spent. Even minor reforms to immigration policy are unlikely to happen. Trump is reportedly set to appoint Tom Cotton, the lone immigration wonk among Republicans in the Senate, to the C.I.A., where Cotton will abandon domestic legislation in favor of foreign-threat assessments. With his reputation for hawkishness, Cotton will, as the joke goes, fill a much-needed void.

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, nothing is brash or loud. He won’t denounce Trump in fiery orations. We’ll just notice that Trump’s enemies seem to be having easier time circling in on him. The car that was parked in the path of the fire truck yesterday will have moved mysteriously to the side. McConnell will clear his throat and look the other way as Trump’s foes charge through. Trump might have no choice but to push through this bill, and he no doubt likes what it does. But tax cuts were also Trump’s bargaining chip in dealing with the G.O.P. He’s about to let that chip go, just as the G.O.P. is about to let Trump go.

If it were all up to the Senate, I’d agree. But bills of impeachment must originate in the House, and I don’t think Republicans in the House are there yet. But that could change now that the Mueller investigation is tightening the noose. If House Republicans decide Trump is a liability as the midterms approach, all bets are off.

The tax bill is a horror that will damage a lot of people, not to mention the the nation. But maybe, like Prohibition, the GOP’s obsession with tax cuts may be something that won’t go away until it goes into effect and utterly fails.

Image from https://tarnmoor.com/2014/12/17/a-true-life-adventure-not-really/

Share Button
17 Comments

Is Mueller Closing In?

-->
Trump Maladministration

It sure seems so

President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December, becoming the first senior White House official to pledge cooperation in the special counsel’s wide-ranging inquiry of election meddling.

Documents released as part of Mr. Flynn’s plea agreement show that his pre-inauguration discussions with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, about foreign policy were part of a coordinated effort by aides running Mr. Trump’s transition into the White House. In at least one instance, federal prosecutors say, Mr. Flynn was directed by a “very senior member” of Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team.

So what exactly did Flynn lie about?

He’s charged with lying about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 22nd, 2016 and on December 29th, 2016.

In the first set of conversations, Flynn apparently asked that Russia either delay or defeat a resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Flynn lied to the FBI about whether Russia ever described their response to this request to him, claiming that they did not.

In the second set of conversations, Flynn requested and received assurances that Russia would not respond strongly to President Obama’s announcement that he was placing new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their meddling in our election. He dishonestly claimed not to remember that Russia had made these assurances to him.

In return for pleading guilty to these charges, Flynn will be expected to cooperate with the investigation. If he doesn’t do so satisfactorily those other charges, including the kidnapping charge which also implicates his son, could be reintroduced.

 Flynn did not make these contacts on his own initiative.

Flynn’s stipulation of the facts underlying his December 2016 conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. At least one of those two conversations Flynn undertook at the direction of a “very senior” transition official, the stipulation says.

The documents do not say who directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak — a conversation Flynn later reportedly lied about to Vice President Mike Pence, a lie that was the stated reason that Trump fired Flynn in February. But Flynn’s statement, following his Friday guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s probe, shows that the transition team, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, was informed at every stage of his discussions with Kislyak.

Who was this “very senior” transition official who gave the order? Nobody really knows. Bloomberg speculates that it was Jared Kushner. Others are reporting that it was Trump himself.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is expected to testify that President Trump instructed him to contact Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, according to a report by ABC News.

Flynn is saying that Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians,” ABC’s Brian Ross said Friday, just moments after Flynn entered a guilty plea for lying about his contact with Russians during the presidential transition period.

Oh, let it be true, please …

Or, it could have been Pence. Josh Marshall:

The first point to note is that Flynn was the person running the Trump foreign policy operation. That is what a modern National Security Advisor does. From everything we know, it’s what Flynn was doing in the latter months of the campaign and certainly during the transition. In other words, it’s not clear that there was anyone in the campaign who outranked Flynn on foreign policy matters. Other than the President-Elect or conceivably the Vice President-Elect, Flynn is the guy who would do the directing rather than getting direction.

Let’s walk through this again.

The “senior official” is the one who talked with Flynn about how to handle his discussions with Kislyak about the sanctions. It was the “very senior member” of the transition who specifically told Flynn to contact foreign governments about the Israel resolution at the UN. The language is very specific about the direction. “On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments…”

The ‘very’ in “very senior member” seems like an almost over the top effort to convey just who it was the prosecutors are talking about. It’s hard to see that that is not either Pence or President Trump, though it also strikes me as perhaps a bit too coy to refer to the incoming President as a member of transition team.

See also Mother Jones. And there’s more …

Flynn clearly kept the President’s team in Mar-A-Lago fully up to date about his conversations with Kislyak, in more or less real time. There were repeated calls with the “senior official” about Kislyak. Critically, after the full round of calls with Kislyak, Flynn “spoke with senior members [note the plural] of the Presidential Transition Team” about his conversations with Kislyak. …

… The clear takeaway is that basically all of Trump’s top advisors, including the President and almost certainly Vice President Pence, were in the loop about these calls even if they did not themselves speak to Flynn directly.

All this may account for why Trump’s behavior has been more erratic than usual lately.

Share Button
15 Comments

The Yin and Yang of Sexual Harassment

-->
Trump Maladministration

Yesterday the “perps du jour” were Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor. I’ve yet to figure out exactly what Garrison Keillor is alleged to have done, other than put his hand in an inappropriate place during a photo shoot, à la Franken. Keillor says he didn’t notice where his hand was, which is entirely possible. Lauer’s transgressions were far more egregious and intentional, and went on for years, and were corroborated by a great many women, which are kind of big differences.

There’s a old video of Katie Couric, Lauer’s one-time co-anchor, saying that Lauer used to pinch her on the behind. Couric hasn’t released a statement this week; one suspects she is busy celebrating. At Vox, Emily Stewart writes about other women who were pushed out at the Today Show. The treatment of Ann Curry in particular was shockingly awful, and it’s a wonder she didn’t sue the network for it.

Sometimes you wonder where people’s heads are. The network execs must have known about Lauer but protected him. Why? If he were amazingly charming, popular and accomplished at his job one might understand it, but he wasn’t.

However, I’ve seen the same thing play out in my own workplaces over and over again; women employees are considered more expendable than male ones. This is not just about harassment. Especially before about 1980 sometimes a man had to practically burn down the headquarters building to be considered incompetent, whereas for women there was zero tolerance for anything but perfection. I don’t think it’s quite that bad now, but it’s still not equal.

Anyway, the point I am getting at here is that all of these accusations coming out now need to be looked at individually, not thrown into the same box.

Karen Tumulty writes at WaPo,

New charges are coming from nearly every direction: the political world, newsrooms, Hollywood, Silicon Valley. And they describe a wide variety of behavior, including rape, unwelcome kisses, sexual advances toward minors, and grabbing a breast or buttock.

“We have to preserve the uniqueness of every situation. That’s at the heart of this,” said Democratic strategist Tracy Sefl, who is on the board of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which operates a national sexual assault hotline. “In this climate that we’re in, everything has been lumped together. Then people look at it as if those crimes are all the same.”

Treating this episodes as “all the same” has the effect of trivializing the worst behavior while punishing people who really don’t deserve it. And my sense of things is that most women know this, while a lot of men haven’t figured it out. Most women want to go after the guys who make our lives hell and ruin our careers. Punishing the schmuck who occasionally does something boorish and stupid but is otherwise okay to work with is not a priority. Frankly, guys, that would describe most of you, even though you may not be aware of it.

I’m seeing a real “yin and yang” vibe on social media. In my unscientific sampling of people I bump into, men are about ten times more likely than women to want a “zero tolerance” approach, which most women realize would flush a lot of basically okay guys down the same toilet with the turds. I’ve seen men asking for bright, clear guidelines and some kind of ranking of offenses, like if putting a hand here is worse than putting it there. They want to be able to refer to a simple Powerpoint chart to know what’s okay and what isn’t. That’s very yang; simplicity and clarity.

However, women see complexity and ambiguity, which is very yin. The same act might be just annoying in one context and terrifying in another. The relationship between perp and victim, the context — whether other people were around, for example — even the perp’s apparent frame of mind can change how the incident is experienced. Women know that simplifying this issue distorts it. You really have to look at each incident separately, and consider it in all the contexts, to judge how serious it was. Sorry, guys.

Men complain that they can’t even flirt any more. Flirting in the workplace is problematic but tolerable in small doses if it’s really flirting and not harassment. Most women know the difference between flirting and harassment. It’s the difference between engaging with us as individual people and just trying to score. Flirting is sweet and subtle; harassment is gross and intimidating. Flirting is a compliment. Harassment takes away our individuality and renders us into Just Another Broad. If you really can’t feel your way around the difference, however, then perhaps you should not attempt flirting with any woman you’re not married or engaged to. (I do wonder if many men suffer from some degree of Asperger’s Syndrome sometimes.)

While we may learn more about Keillor that changes the picture, right now I suspect Minnesota Public Radio should not have reacted so quickly to fire him. And I think NBC should have dumped Lauer at least ten years ago. And now at least one woman has been caught making false claims for political reasons, which was bound to happen. But it just takes a few women to be caught lying before we’re back to the assumption that all women are liars, which is worrisome.

My other concern is that men will take over the issue and assume the lead in writing the sexual harassment response handbook, because men always think they know better than we do, and they will screw it up.

In other news, word is that Rex Tillerson will be replaced at State by Mike Pompeo, an old teabagger from Kansas who probably can’t find North Korea on a map. There’s no hope.

Share Button
8 Comments

O’Keefe Stung by His Own Sting; Even RedState Dissed Him

-->
Trump Maladministration

Yesterday WaPo published a story about an attempted Project Veritas sting of WaPo. In case you missed it, James O’Keefe sent a woman to tell Washington Post reporters that she had been impregnated by Roy Moore way back when. But the reporters checked out her background and story, and instead published a story about confronting the woman about her lies and exposing Project Veritas.

Jonathan Chait commented:

The scam collapsed for a number of reasons. His fake source provided a flimsy cover story with odd details — she claimed to have only spent a few summers in Alabama, but provided a cell phone with an Alabama area code. The supposed place of employment that she provided did not have any person by that name working there. A search of her name turned up a social-media post in which she explained that she was going to “work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt [sic] of the liberal MSM.”

If you’ve ever watched a spy movie, you’ll probably recall that the spies never get caught because they left a social-media post under their real name declaring “I’m enrolling in espionage school to become a spy!”

Instead of owning up to having been caught, O’Keefe put up a highly edited video on his Project Veritas site (to which I will not link) that purports to show WaPo reporter Aaron C. Davis admitting to O’Keefe that, among other things, the paper publishes negative opinions of Trump. However, WaPo had filmed the entire encounter also and published the unedited version, which clarified that Davis was talking about the editorial section.

This last bit of derp was so clumsy that even RedState called it out as a “a desperate attempt at damage control.”  Jim Geraghty at National Review Online published a takedown of O’Keefe that could have run word-for-word at Alternet. Scott Johnson of the Power Tools referred to this episode as “O’Keefe’s exploding cigar.” And Red Dreher at The American Conservative practically begged people to stop funding O’Keefe. This last bit inspired the following comment:

We need a better class of rube in the US. Even the dumbest grifters make out OK these days—O’Keefe gets more than $300K a year to walk around stepping on rakes.

True enough. But this same commenter also said that O’Keefe wouldn’t be going away, because their class of rubes still believes him. And, sure enough, the flaming idiots at Gateway Pundit (to which I do not link) are celebrating O’Keefe’s great success. But the best Brietbart can do is claim that O’Keefe and WaPo busted each other. And I understand Drudge isn’t touching it, one way or another.

So O’Keefe will be around for awhile to step on more rakes. However, it’s possible that he’ll disappear from mainstream media. The days when his easily debunked claims are uncritically picked up by any but extreme right-wing media outlets are over, I believe.

See also Charles Pierce.

Share Button
9 Comments

Today’s Clown Show

-->
Trump Maladministration

Today in an event honoring Navajo Code Talkers that was attended by three of the surviving “talkers,” Trump went off on Elizabeth Warren, calling her “Pocahontas.”

“You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas,’ ” he said with a chuckle. “But you know what? I like you.” The audience was quiet.

I have said in the past that Trump has no class. He’s like a black hole that sucks away any trace of class.

Warren has been a consistent critic of Trump’s and, prior to joining the Senate, was one of the key advocates for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That agency has been at the center of a fight over the past several days as Trump tries to overhaul it. Warren criticized Trump’s efforts in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday.

Unsurprisingly, many Native Americans have taken offense at Trump’s use of Pocahontas’s name to disparage a political opponent. So, too, have many Republicans. When Trump used the expression in 2016, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) expressed his disdain.

“It’s neither appropriate personally toward her, and frankly, it offends a much larger group of people,” Cole said at the time. “So I wish he would avoid that.” Instead, Trump not only used it Monday, but also did so after explicitly mentioning that MacDonald’s “great friend” Tom Cole was in the audience.

The “MacDonald” referenced above is Peter MacDonald, one of the surviving Code Talkers. Whether MacDonald and Cole actually are friends, or whether Trump was just being a dick toward Native Americans, I do not know.

If you’ve been wondering what the hell is going on with the the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, do see “What the Hell Is Going On at the C.F.P.B.?” by Abigail Tracy at Vanity Fair. In brief, after longtime director Richard Cordray announced he was leaving, “he promoted his chief of staff, Leandra English, to the agency’s No. 2 position, and declared in a letter to bureau staff that she would step in as acting director,” Tracy writes. But Trump picked former congressman Mick Mulvaney to be the acting director until someone is confirmed by the Senate. In the past Mulvaney has called the CFPB a joke that shouldn’t exist. Mulvaney is expected to dismantle the agency.

But then this happened: English filed a lawsuit against Trump to stop Mulvaney from taking over as acting director.

Mulvaney appeared to escalate the battle on Monday, showing up to work armed with donuts; English countered with a post-Thanksgiving e-mail signed ”acting director.” At present, both are hard at work at the same job.

In an interview, Liz Warren sided with English:

Pressed on whether the law clearly authorizes the president to fill such vacancies, Warren challenged that premise. “Dodd-Frank is quite specific: It provides its own succession planning,” she told me. “There is no vacancy for President Trump to fill.”

Just another day in the clown car …

Share Button
13 Comments

Tillerson Is Dismantling the State Department

-->
Trump Maladministration

Gardiner Harris writes for the New York Times that State Department personnel are being dismissed wholesale as Secretary of State Tillerson pursues “efficiency.”

In a letter to Mr. Tillerson last week, Democratic members of the House Foreign Relations Committee, citing what they said was “the exodus of more than 100 senior Foreign Service officers from the State Department since January,” expressed concern about “what appears to be the intentional hollowing-out of our senior diplomatic ranks.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, sent a similar letter, telling Mr. Tillerson that “America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex global crises are growing externally.”

Some of this is petty stuff:

Mr. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has made no secret of his belief that the State Department is a bloated bureaucracy and that he regards much of the day-to-day diplomacy that lower-level officials conduct as unproductive. Even before Mr. Tillerson was confirmed, his staff fired six of the State Department’s top career diplomats, including Patrick Kennedy, who had been appointed to his position by President George W. Bush. Kristie Kenney, the department’s counselor and one of just five career ambassadors, was summarily fired a few weeks later.

None were given any reason for their dismissals, although Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Kenney had been reprimanded by Trump transition officials for answering basic logistical questions from Nikki R. Haley, President Trump’s pick as United Nations ambassador. Mr. Tillerson is widely believed to dislike Ms. Haley, who has been seen as a possible successor if Mr. Tillerson steps down.

And this:

His small cadre of aides have fired some diplomats and gotten others to resign by refusing them the assignments they wanted or taking away their duties altogether. Among those fired or sidelined were most of the top African-American and Latino diplomats, as well as many women, difficult losses in a department that has long struggled with diversity.

The article says that the State Department is being stripped of expertise in many volatile areas of the world. Apparently our new foreign policy strategy is to stumble around blind.

So many top level diplomatics are being forced out that the damage to the State Department could take many years to fix. Tillerson’s objective seems to be to cut the State Department budget by a third and make it more “efficient,” because you know foreign policy is all about … efficiency? But junior staffers who don’t know that much about the world can be paid less, so that much is efficient.

Share Button
16 Comments
« Older Posts
Newer Posts »


    About this blog

    About Maha
    Comment Policy

    Vintage Mahablog
    Email Me
















    eXTReMe Tracker













      Technorati Profile